Owari no Chronicle:Volume10 Chapter 13
Chapter 13: The World’s Expression
It is hidden
And it is trampled on
It then flatly vanishes without bending
The sunlight was shifting to afternoon.
The sky was clear and the air was still.
The westering sun was accompanied by the scent of the ocean as someone ran down an asphalt slope.
It was Shinjou.
Her long black hair danced while tied back in a ribbon, the bottom of her orange jacket swayed, and the bag on her back and her skirt hopped up with each running step.
“I need to hurry.”
She held copy paper with the Sakai municipal office’s stamp on it. It contained the information on volunteer centers and churches she had received at that municipal office.
She saw a mountain to the east and the city and port bordering the Seto Inland Sea to the west.
A faded sign for tourists was set up halfway up the slope. It indicated that Sakai’s port was located down below.
About two hours before, she had received quite a bit of information at the municipal office.
…But a lot happened before that.
She had arrived in Osaka in the early morning.
She had left the night train at Osaka Station and looked up at a train station’s route map for the first time.
It had also been her first time to check with a station attendant despite standing right in front of the proper platform and her first time unfolding her map despite being on the right road.
…I don’t know anything about the world and I’m really not used to travelling.
By the time she had finally managed to reach the Sakai municipal office, it had been just before nine in the morning. The office had yet to open, so she ate a light breakfast at a nearby café and then faced the morning congestion inside the office.
…I went there to get a list of orphanages or churches.
According to the document in Izumo UCAT, Shinjou Yukio had been left with an orphanage church in Sakai.
She had asked for city documents from before the earthquake, but she had received a certain response.
“There is no complete documentation from before or after the earthquake.”
These were records for something as large-scale as a city and yet they did not exist.
This was mostly due to the old municipal office burning down, but that was not all: the landscape had changed during the earthquake, a lot of people had left the city, a lot had come to the city, and a lot of documentation had simply stopped being updated partway through.
The city’s newer documents were updated much more frequently because the government had decided to fully digitize everything in 2002, but the old paper documents were barely even treated as documents anymore.
Shinjou recalled the explanation given by the woman at the municipal office.
“Things like real estate and banks were linked with other information and completed in order to preserve the bare minimum of the old information needed to keep everything running. But…there’s some information that we can get by without, right? We wanted to put the people at ease and recover as quickly as possible, so we got the office back up and running even if it meant abandoning a fair bit of information. After all, the sooner the office was back to normal, the sooner we could bring back public order and the city administration.”
“The people who lost their houses in the large-scale landslides abandoned their destroyed land and moved. A lot of people did the same with the houses they lost in fires. There is documentation for the people who did report the loss, but the city bought up the land of those who lost everything or the land that is too dangerous to live on. There was so much confusion at the time that a lot is still unknown. Even now, people will find their old land was mistakenly registered as their neighbor’s.”
The woman had sighed and apologized.
…That could normally never happen.
It had happened so easily because the situation had needed to advance even if everything was not perfect.
The problem was how to compensate when it did happen. That was the most effective way of using your time and effort and this city still had no time or effort to spare.
In another decade or two, they would likely have become a city that could immediately answer Shinjou’s question.
Shinjou did know one thing.
According to the research she had done before the trip, a quarter of the city’s population of eight hundred thousand had arrived after the earthquake.
Numerically, that was two hundred thousand people.
In ten years, a full quarter of the city had been remade, including the residents themselves.
“Those people came here to help with the trouble that still remains. The office was in such a rush back then that we couldn’t handle everything. …Just the other day, some people came from another prefecture after finally deciding to visit their relatives’ graves.”
As she spoke, the woman had made the list of churches.
There were about forty of them.
“There are probably street corner churches and ones using prefabricated buildings left over after the earthquake. The places that registered or moved when the phone lines were down often didn’t bother writing down their phone number. And during the phone number changes the year before last, the areas with phone lines cut by the faults were given entirely new numbers, but…”
“But the change might not have been recorded here?”
“That would normally never happen, but we’re still dealing with the disaster. So…”
The woman had handed over a few pieces of copy paper.
They contained a few phone numbers, addresses, and group names.
“These are the earthquake volunteer offices. I don’t know if they’re still running, though. We made sure they could work without having to register their activities with the city.”
Shinjou had taken that list and was now hurrying along.
She had a reason to hurry. After leaving the municipal office, she had eaten lunch at a café and called UCAT.
…Ooki-sensei was the one to answer.
The woman had insisted nothing had happened and that everything was fine.
That was a lie, she thought. Something happened.
…She would normally unintentionally say something that made me worry.
However, Ooki had immediately said everything was fine and that nothing had happened.
Something must have happened to Heo, Harakawa, Hiba, or Mikage after the phone call the night before.
Pain suddenly filled her stomach.
This intermittent pain had begun in the morning and it was the same pain she had at the end of every month in place of a period. Perhaps due to her worried stress, it was especially bad today.
Even so, she ran. She needed to quickly finish this personal business and return. She intended to return on the bullet train the following morning.
…I can complete today’s tasks as long as I have the time. I will eventually find Shinjou Yukio.
That fact eliminated the pain in her stomach.
She was pursuing someone who might not even be her relative, but she would limit that personal business to this one day. Heo and Ooki had both told her to do her best, so she would do what she could.
However, today was the only day for that.
She would use this one day for herself, but then she would return to her proper place and act alongside those who were with her.
And once that proper place was safe, she could act for herself once again.
A late-night bullet train could reach Tokyo this same day.
With that thought, she let out a breath.
“This one is the largest volunteer office. I’ll start there!”
The address was near the entrance to Sakai’s port. Apparently, the largest volunteer office had existed there from the earliest stages in order to process the relief goods. It was at the top of the list she had received at the municipal office.
If she went there, she would be able to gather the broadest range of information.
Her running feet took her down the slope to the port.
The sea air seemed to sting her skin and smelled somehow nostalgic. This was the scent of the Seto Inland Sea she had experienced during the summer.
The road reached a T-intersection. The road continuing right and left was wide and something came into view beyond the guardrail across that road.
She saw the back of the port’s wharf beyond the slope’s T-intersection.
She was in an elevated area, so she was able to look down on the Seto Inland Sea.
The sea almost looked black and it reflected the pale late autumn sun like a fish’s scales. She saw the lines of ships parting those scales and realized the sight before her eyes was much larger than she had thought.
…It’s so big.
She looked down and saw the wharf was brand new.
She recalled what Kazami had told her on the helicopter ride to the Seto Inland Sea during the summer.
After the Great Kansai Earthquake, IAI had provided large-scale support for a recovery.
They had built an artificial island and all of the transportation routes – whether by land, sea, or air – had run from there.
The coastal port would have been remade at that time and then officially built even later.
The city had been made new, but that new city filled Shinjou with a certain emotion.
…It scares me.
The old things were disappearing. One day, those things would suddenly vanish and something new would take their place.
A quarter of the city’s population was made up of people who had arrived after the earthquake. They would of course know about the earthquake, but…
…They don’t know what actually happened beneath their feet or in the places they can see.
I’m the same, she thought, but then a memory of the past came to her.
She remembered the firebombing of Tokyo.
While in Shinjuku during the Leviathan Road with 2nd-Gear, she had seen the moment in the past when the city of Tokyo had been burned away.
The city and so much else had been lost then and replaced later.
The Concept War was similar.
Many Gears had vanished and the survivors were being replaced here in Low-Gear.
Thanks to her classes, her textbooks, the newspapers, and the TV news, Shinjou knew this country had fought a war.
She had looked through quite a bit of historical information in the library since she had started attending school.
Even so, she did not know what was buried beneath her feet.
Even so, she did not know if the scenery around her was the same as it had once been.
…I don’t know my father or my mother.
She had already thought about this after the dream of the past Baku had given her the day before.
In the dream, Sayama’s parents had rushed though the burning city of Osaka.
…But what were they fighting?
The remains of their battle might lie beneath her feet as she walked through this city that had been destroyed in an earthquake.
…And are my parents down there, too?
She shuddered and woke from her thoughts.
She wanted to cling to someone, but that someone was not with her. And she only realized that because…
“I’m trying to cling to him.”
He was not here. Everything was back to the way it had been.
It was the same as when she had been alone in UCAT for so long.
“But it’s different now.”
She had somewhere to return to, so she could go outside. She had someone to cling to for support, so she could leave him for the time being. She had no parents, so she was searching for them. It was all perfectly natural. And so…
“Here I go.”
She faced the T-intersection and her gaze settled on the ocean beyond it. She trembled a bit from the unease trying to control her, but it was weak enough that she could still move.
“Here I go!”
The road to the right continued down the slope to the port’s entrance.
She began to run to the bottom of the slope while watching the Seto Inland Sea rise to her left. She ran to the port and her goal.
The firmness of her footsteps on the asphalt helped her control the tremble in her heart.
…It’ll be okay.
It would take time, but she could continue pursuing Shinjou Yukio.
In the same way, she would eventually find her parents.
Suddenly, something rose up from the left side of the slope.
It was a green two-story prefabricated building. It had a large gray storehouse behind it.
The prefabricated roof was covered with stacks of plywood panels and on top of blue sheets and lumber.
The green corrugated iron wall had the words “Great Kansai Earthquake Sakai Port Relief Office” written in black spray paint.
Shinjou sped up.
She was now racing down the hill more than she was running.
Eventually, her legs could not keep up and wide gaps appeared between footsteps.
She was almost leaping as she made her way down the slope.
She circled around the guardrail and into the open area at the port entrance.
Beyond the people running transport vehicles and forklifts, she saw the wharf that was now level with her.
She heard cranes moving, vehicles beeping as they backed up, many different voices, and countless engines.
The smell of salt water was strong.
However, she ignored it all.
She moved left as if reversing her downward momentum and she threw her body toward the prefab building.
The building was less than ten meters from the port entrance.
She imagined knocking on the door, giving a greeting, and entering to walk across the somewhat soft floor. She pictured a man or woman like the one at the municipal office.
Her imagination stopped there.
And that was not all that had stopped. Her legs, her momentum, and the strength in her gaze had all stopped as well.
She simply faced forward.
She looked to the prefab building in front of her.
Shinjou saw a closed door.
Beyond the glass on the upper half of the aluminum sash door was a curtain faded to white by the sun.
No light could be seen beyond the curtain.
Her feet suddenly moved and brought her closer.
She stepped up on the block used in place of a front step.
She called out and knocked on the door.
The glass shook and the corrugated iron wall audibly bent a little.
She waited a few seconds, but there was no response.
Unable to endure the silence, she spoke.
She lightly knocked on the door.
“I have a question!”
But there was no response. All she heard was the shaking of the door and the bending of the corrugated iron.
After those sounds of her own creation vanished, she listened to the surrounding noises once more.
She heard the moving cranes, the beeping of transport vehicles backing up, people’s voices, and running engines. Those sounds of the city permeated her from behind.
Her silhouette was reflected in the window with the somewhat dulled sunlight in the background. It was reflected in the darkness beyond the curtain.
With that weak call, she peered inside.
There was nothing there.
No, there was something. Blue sheets were laid out on the plastic floor, plywood panels were piled up, and a few folding chairs were stacked on top of those.
She also saw color on the ceiling.
…Chains of colored paper?
They must have been celebrating something because several chains of colored paper were still hanging from the ceiling.
That was all. She could see nothing else.
She took a step back and found nothing there.
She completely forgot she had been standing on a block.
She fell onto her butt.
Looking up at the door from the ground, she noticed something.
A piece of paper had been stuck on the inside of the door’s glass in front of the faded curtain.
Still sitting, she looked at the paper that had also faded. She read aloud the large writing printed off from a word processor.
“Exactly nine years have passed since the earthquake and we are entering the tenth year. We have long received support, but the time for widespread material relief efforts has ended. We believe it is now time for local support, efforts of the recovering city administration, and moral support.”
…When we opened this office, we decided we could not continue running it for a full decade. Not because we could not keep it up but because we could not allow the earthquake to take a full decade of our lives from us. We were determined to take back our lives before a decade had passed.
“We lost so very much, but the people in temporary housing have all been moved to permanent homes and the city’s population was reported to have surpassed the pre-earthquake number last year. We are viewing that as a sign that we have truly retrieved our lives, so we have decided to close up before entering the tenth year. From now on, local areas will handle their own problems. We would like to thank all of you for the support you have provided us for so long. We are praying for the happiness of those lost in the earthquake, those lost in the recovery, and those who live on.”
The date it gave was the end of the previous year. After that, it gave contact information said to have been valid through March of this year, phone numbers of local volunteer offices, and the phone number for the municipal office.
And that was all.
…What is this?
The municipal office was still dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake, but the large-scale disaster relief stage had already ended.
After ten years, the land had been restored, houses had been built, the city had been made into a place for people to live once more, and the population numbers had returned.
The main issue in the current stage was administrative troubles.
Still sitting on the ground, she suppressed the emotions welling up in her heart.
While restraining her heart, doubts filled her mind as words.
…Is the past being replaced by the present?
She did not know what had been below her feet or in the places she could see around her.
It had all been replaced with new things.
“And even if you try to remember the past and record it, the memories feel fresh yet you can’t go that far.”
She would eventually learn about the past, but that was a long time from now.
By then, she would have nothing left connecting her to that past.
Part of her thought that was fine, but she also shook her head.
“I’m standing in the divide between the past and a new era.”
As she muttered those words, something thin and hard fell onto the back of the right hand she had placed on the ground.
She looked down and found the envelope Sayama had given her.
He had given it to her while saying he was leaving her with a piece of his past and it seemed to have slipped from the opening of her backpack.
…The envelope makes itself known as forcefully as its sender.
Feeling like she was being embraced by the one who had left it with her, she picked it up.
If she let this break her, she would never be able to read it.
Right, she thought while gathering strength.
Suddenly, a man called out to her from the wharf.
“Hey! That place isn’t running anymore! You should head to the municipal office!”
She stood up, turned around, and found a man raising his hand in a group of men walking between warehouses. The gesture seemed to be telling her to keep trying.
She bowed and turned around. She grabbed the backpack, put the envelope away, and pulled out another document. It was the list of volunteer offices and churches.
She looked down at it and took a deep breath.
She had run all the way here, but now that she thought about it, she had been in too much of a hurry.
She could only think the anxiety and hope of her first trip alone had mixed together and excited her.
She was nervous, but she could do what she needed to do.
Before she returned to Tokyo the following morning, she wanted to grasp a part of her past that would otherwise be forgotten. That way she could use that part to drag out the past when she eventually came here again.
…I need to think.
She put the bag on her back and began to walk with the papers in hand.
“How can I most efficiently check all of them?”
The sky was a little bit cloudy.
A girl and a white dog walked through the faint shadows cast on a road.
They were Shino and Shiro.
While walking along the wide sidewalk, Shino checked the sign hanging below the street’s traffic light.
This had been a long walk.
She lived in Hachioji to the south of Akigawa, but the cities were only directly connected by road and several mountains divided them. She had taken the train, so she had been forced to travel through Tachikawa or Haijima station.
This walk could be called a short trip.
She saw no problem in bringing Shiro with her. He cast no shadow, but it was an overcast day.
He was an information being, but he generally treated the walls and ground as solid to match Shino.
He would always “hide” somewhere on the trains out of concern for her.
Whenever she passed through the ticket gate, he would vanish and he would reappear by her side once she left the ticket gate.
He had learned to hide after she had tried to take him with her and gotten into an argument with the station attendant.
She did not know how it worked, but it was probably completely normal for him.
Currently, he was allowing himself to be seen as she walked alongside him.
She had passed by the municipal office earlier and she was now walking right into the wind blowing down from the north.
A long wall continued to her right.
“That’s Taka-Akita Academy, isn’t it?”
She always saw those buildings when she came to Akigawa. In fact, one could say the facility was Akigawa itself.
A group in white approached from up ahead.
She reflexively grew defensive, but she realized it was a group of girls in white track suits.
A female teacher drove a car behind them while shouting to set their tempo.
“C’mon, you have to help prepare for the festival and you still have normal classes until midday.”
“Ah, I wish we were in Ooki-sensei’s class. They have a self-study day today.”
The teacher gave a bitter smile as she responded to the student’s exasperated comment.
“C’mon, you delinquent students. Don’t you know Ooki-san goes to the trouble of teaching supplementary lessons? Of course, that’s to make up for how often she’s late.”
Laughter spilled out and the entire group picked up speed.
That was for a PE class, so they were likely running a long distance. Shino waited for the footsteps and voices to approach.
She and Shiro watched them pass by.
Most of the students had their heads drooping and were weakly leaning forward as they propelled their bodies in the same direction. Shino imagined they were sick of running.
A few of them softened their expressions as they looked at her and Shiro, but…
“C’mon, quit looking to the side. You’re gonna trip.”
What’s wrong with that, thought Shino while watching them pass by.
But at the same time…
…That may be true.
She did not know what a life like theirs was like.
She had never lived a life like theirs.
She could not live a life like theirs.
They lived in the same world, they were both human, they were from the same generation, they wore the same sort of clothes, they ate the same kinds of food, they breathed the same air, and they experienced the same time, but something was different on a fundamental level.
…How long will this last?
“Shiro, let’s go.”
When would she be able to call herself a “normal” person?
She recalled what Hajji had said.
…When we crush UCAT and wipe out the last remnants of the Concept War.
She began to walk into the blowing north wind with Shiro by her side.
She walked beside that wall she could never enter.
“Shiro, Hajji told me something. Army’s attack tonight will change tomorrow morning. The morning will change in some fundamental way that the rest of the world doesn’t know about. Nothing else will change, but the victors known as UCAT will vanish and the world will belong equally to everyone.”
She rubbed Shiro’s head while walking alongside him.
“People want to avenge the past or avenge what was lost, but with the target of that vengeance gone, they will have no excuses left and will have no reason left to fight. …It may take time, but we will all be able to live together in the same world, as identical humans, in the same generation, while wearing the same sort of clothes, while eating the same kinds of food, while breathing the same air, and while experiencing the same time.”
She looked down at the dog’s walking feet. They scraped on the asphalt, but he did not cast a shadow.
“Will I be able to live with you too, Shiro? Even if nothing else changes, if the rulers vanish, then eventually…”
They reached the wide main entrance, but she did not peek inside the school.
She turned her back, crossed the road, and continued on.
Shiro must have remembered the way because he walked on ahead.
It was true she had taken Shiro this way a few times before. She would sometimes come here without telling anyone else. Hajji seemed to have a hunch, but Mikoku only thought she was going to some distant place for fun.
…Should I really be doing this?
They had all been given some free time because this was the day of the attack, but Mikoku was training on her own to make up for losing to Jord the night before.
On the other hand, Shino had come here. She was using her free time for herself.
…But all I’ve been doing is thinking.
“Sorry, Shiro. We can go to the usual central park later.”
He turned back toward her and gave a small bark.
She felt like he was trying to cheer her up, so she smiled.
She walked between the houses lining the road and saw thin clouds in the sky.
The clouds were supposed to clear by nightfall, but she wondered if they really would.
She also had another thought.
…What will happen once the attack is over?
Whether they won or lost, a lot would change.
…But one thing will return to normal.
The girl would no longer have to tell Shino not to fight.
In fact, Shino would be the one telling Mikoku they no longer needed to fight.
She could not wait for that to happen.
She wanted all the fighting to end and for Mikoku to not be so upset all the time.
She slowly came to a stop.
At the same time, she heard an electronic chime and a voice behind her.
“The festival committee will now announce the beginning of today’s school festival preparations and would like to give some warnings. Let’s see… First, when riding a bicycle, motorcycle, or car onto school grounds, make sure your license is displayed in a visible place. Second, ‘I couldn’t resist any longer’ is no excuse for making the preparations in the nude. And third, if anyone else tries to sell stimulants at increased prices in the cafeteria, the committee’s purge division will…”
Shino simply sighed without even turning toward the voice.
She began to walk away from the sounds behind her and the people creating them.
“It will all be over soon and then I can be with Mikoku and the others.”
She had waited for so long, but that wait would end tonight and she would have all her answers by morning.
She briefly closed her eyes and nodded.
“If I had been like Shinjou-san, I wouldn’t have had to wait for the new world,” she muttered. “If only I had been someone irreplaceable.”
She looked up and faced forward.
There, she saw what lay in front of Shiro as he sat and waited for her.
It was a large house surrounded by a long fence.
She walked toward the wooden gate and saw a nameplate that said “Tamiya”.
“I came here again…”
Her voice sounded both resigned and exasperated.
A moment later, a female voice reached her from beyond the gate.
“Like! I! Said!!”
The tone of protest made Shino gasp.
She wondered what was going on and the voice travelled through the gate once again.
“Honestly, Kouji. Why are you such a stubborn boy!?”
A young man and woman faced each other in the Tamiya family yard.
The woman wore a blue kimono and the man wore a gray suit.
The man spoke to the woman whose eyebrows were raised.
“Fine, fine. Just calm down, my sister. Besides, you shouldn’t be calling your brother a ‘boy’ when he’s past twenty.”
“Then I’ll level you up to a stubborn man. Or I could say you were ‘born stubborn’ to make it rhyme.”
“Ha ha ha. They may be spelled the same, but they don’t actually rhyme. …Anyway, you need to spend some time in the storehouse thinking about what you did. I can’t believe you would give the young master some of our special drugs.”
“But he and Setsu-chan are like family. What’s wrong with giving them some of our drugs?”
“Those are for business! They’re for the guests in the confinement room down below. Just because mom and dad are on a hot spring excavation tour in the hopes that Mount Aso will erupt doesn’t mean you can just take some.”
“But, but, but. Won’t this help advance their relationship? Do you really not get it, Kouji?”
The woman, Ryouko, sighed while striking a pose like it had started to rain.
“They’re going to be apart for a little bit, so they’re just using some drugs to excite themselves and get them through the rebound. There’s nothing wrong with this. And if it goes well, it means I was their Cu-Cu-Cu-Cupi-…”
“Cupid. You can’t even say that right?”
“I-I just stuttered a little. I don’t remember raising a man who would gripe about something so trivial! …And if you don’t like it, try saying some profound thing yourself!”
“I’d really like a peaceful everyday life.”
“That’s definitely not happening.”
“Why is that the only time you give a serious answer!? …And you’re the reason it isn’t happening!”
After Kouji shouted, his shoulders drooped.
“Anyway, sister, I would also like to say I wasn’t raised to be like that, but don’t forget that a large part of my personality was formed by cleaning up after your mistakes.”
“Wh-what? Are you saying it’s my fault you’re like this?’
“About 80% your fault, yes.”
“You mean you have 80% of a sister complex!? Oh, you poor thing! You’re definitely dangerous!”
“Calm down 100%, my sister. How in the world did you reach that conclusion?”
“Don’t try to deny it!” Ryouko pointed at Kouji and raised her voice. “There’s nothing wrong with having a sister complex. With a sister this attractive, it isn’t something to be embarrassed about. After all, even the single and unemployed son of Ishii-san who lives cattycorner of here has been spying on me with binoculars!”
A second-story window on the house diagonally behind Ryouko quickly closed, but they heard someone stomping up the stairs followed by screams and sounds of impacts in one room on the second story.
Ryouko sighed toward the ground.
“Well, with as many pheromones as I produce, I guess I can’t blame you for having a sister complex. You can have one if you want. After all, I’m the one that finds it disgusting, not you.”
“I’m going to ignore that misunderstanding and how you destroyed peace in the neighborhood, but you are amazingly individualistic, sister.”
“Yes, but Kouji? Did you really see your sister like that?”
“Yes. About four times a year, I would tell myself I didn’t want to turn out like you.”
“You made a quarterly habit out of it!? …You’re the worst, Kouji. Instead of just thinking things again and again, you need to make actual changes in your life.”
“Then can I go on a trip? Maybe one that lasts three years?”
“Fine, but make sure to clean my room first. And once you get back, you’ll have to clean the three years’ worth of messiness. And that isn’t mandatory; it’s an order.”
“Those are the same thing! And what kind of sister makes her younger brother clean her room!?”
“Now you’re ignoring our familial bonds? You really are the worst! I’m not putting up with this.”
She turned around, slid the gate’s latch to the side, and pulled it open.
She opened it with all her might and looked over her shoulder at Kouji.
“I’m going to work and you can’t stop me! I’m going to get rich and use all my money to show you who’s better! I’ll slap you with a pile of cash and make you cry.”
“I’m sorry, sister, but all of the money you earn goes right into the company vault.”
“A-are you embezzling it!? …Huh?”
Ryouko saw a girl and a dog through the gap of the opening gate.
Seeing the surprised look on the girl’s face, Ryouko’s own look of surprise changed to a smile.
“Oh, my.” She placed a hand on her cheek. “Are you preparing for the school festival? You are, aren’t you? Are you from the young master’s class?”
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